EDITORIAL: An apology, not a farewell

I APOLOGIZE to all our readers, especially our subscribers. We suddenly find ourselves collateral damage from the pandemic. I didn’t give you more warning of this because I didn’t see it coming.

In the past two issues we have reduced the number of pages in The Columbia Paper by a third. It didn’t offset the withdrawal of some of our best advertising customers. Washing hands more often helps ward off COVID-19 but it doesn’t pay the printer’s bill.

This week I decided we must temporarily suspend publishing the print edition of The Columbia Paper with this March 26, 2020 issue. How long will “temporarily” last? I wish I knew. I hope it will be no more than four or five weeks. It depends on how long it takes for the illness to abate. No one associated with this newspaper is aware of having been exposed to the virus and we want to regroup and find the support we need to return to publishing the weekly newspaper you tell us you love.

We also have to find a way to fulfill financial obligation to all of our subscribers. Certainly we will extend subscription renewal deadlines.

Beyond that, please know that while the pandemic’s economic impact hit us hard as it has so many other businesses, the decision to suspend publication began with a concern that our distribution of the paper each week might be hazardous to our delivery drivers and to the many people around the county where we distribute The Columbia Paper.

A lot of our drivers fit the definition of the “high risk” category if they contract COVID-19. I do not want to be responsible for placing my friends and colleagues at risk of this potentially deadly virus. And I wouldn’t want our delivery people unwittingly exposing our readers and neighbors to the virus. To that end, only one person, who is not classified as high-risk, will deliver this issue.

I know we have readers who buy The Columbia Paper because it’s ink on trees (aka paper) and who prefer not to receive all their news via a screen. They won’t feel any better about this pause in our publication schedule when we tell them that we plan to beef up our website. But the data show that www.columbiapaper.com has roughly as many “users” per month online as our newsprint edition has readers. And it has recently had a spike of additional online visits. We hope you’ll visit the website even if it’s only until you can once again hold our newsprint edition in your hands.

I regret having to take this action. If I were better at business, perhaps this lapse in the print edition could have been avoided. Maybe this week’s government bailout will cushion the loss of income for the people who contribute in so many ways to this enterprise. I hope so.

Regardless of my questionable financial skills, newspapers find it increasingly hard to thrive in the 21st century. Maybe any type of crisis would have been as bad for the newspaper industry. The irony for us is that before the pandemic, our audience was growing and business was looking up.

I still believe we will get the print edition of The Columbia Paper back in your hands each week. It won’t be easy or quick. And any help we seek from the government will likely find us competing against thousands of other small enterprises around the country similarly squeezed beyond their limits by the pandemic.

So, no goodbye. There’s an online news site that needs attention. But if you have any good ideas about how we can improve our chances of success, send them to us. Right now, we could use all the help we can get. The same probably holds true for you, too. Stay safe. And thank you.

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